At Torico Ice Cream in Jersey City, N.J., the Berrios family has been serving scoops of their signature flavor since 1970.
A report by Korsha Wilson for The New York Times.
“They don’t know how good they have it,” Christine Berrios said of her two children as she walked her son Noah into the small prep kitchen at Torico, her family’s ice cream shop in downtown Jersey City.
Noah, 5, had been making pancakes with his grandmother, Pura Berrios, upstairs and came down to the first floor to ask his mother for chocolate chips. She gave him a small plastic measuring cup, half full with milk chocolate pieces, and sent him back upstairs.
“Most of the time he comes down looking for ice cream,” Christine said as she watched him bounce up the stairs.
This is a typical Saturday at Torico Ice Cream. It’s a business, but it also feels like a home, with photos in practically every corner documenting the family’s more than 50 years at the location. In fact, Pura Berrios and her family have lived upstairs off and on since 1970, when she and her husband Peter bought the building.
In 1968, Peter and Pura Berrios had been operating a small deli for a few years on the same block as a Woolworth’s department store, when Pura got pregnant with their first child, Denise. Mrs. Berrios began to miss the flavors of her native Puerto Rico, specifically coquito, a holiday-season drink made with coconut, warming spices like clove and allspice, and often a splash (or two) of Puerto Rican rum.
Mr. Berrios, who also grew up in Puerto Rico, concocted for her a sort of coquito sherbet (without the alcohol), cracking fresh coconuts and grinding the meat before placing the mixture in a small hand-cranked ice cream maker. The result was smooth and creamy with a flavor reminiscent of the coquito she craved.
“I started giving people tastes and they would ask to buy it, so we started selling it,” Pura Berrios said.
Lines started forming along Erie Street for scoops at 5, 10 or 15 cents for a small, medium or large. Peter came up with a few more flavors, and eventually the couple converted their deli into an ice cream shop. They called it Tropical Delight before eventually shortening it to Torico, a play on “todo rico” or “everything is delicious.”
“Once we started selling ice cream, there was no going back,” Mrs. Berrios said.
Fifty-three years later, Torico is selling about 15,000 gallons of ice cream a year at the same compact, handsome storefront just blocks away from the Hudson River, with flavors inspired by tropical fruits like mango and tamarind, and beloved classics like poundcake and banana-peanut butter.
During summer months, the line of customers seeking post-dinner scoops or pints frequently stretches down the block. But even on that recent Saturday, with a fall chill in the air, business at Torico hummed along. As the hours passed and afternoon became evening, a steady stream of customers — including a father and son looking for a treat after karate practice and a couple picking up an ice cream cake for a birthday celebration — came into the shop.
Even the mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, is a fan. “We are very proud to be the home of the best ice cream in New Jersey,” he wrote in an email, “and beyond the quality of the product, the story of Pete and Pura speaks to the values and hard work that Jersey City’s community has embodied for decades.”
“It’s really beautiful to see customers that have grown up with you now bringing in their kids,” Christine Berrios said. After graduating from Rutgers with a major in psychology and a minor in marketing, she joined the family business as operations manager in 2008, writing down all of her father’s recipes and streamlining the business. “It’s the most fulfilling thing, getting to pass the baton.”
Next year, Torico will open a second location in the Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City, with a larger production facility to help them expand the business to include shipping and selling to more retail and restaurant clients. “We’ve survived because we’ve always invested when we’re ready,” Pura Berrios said.
Steven Edward Berrios, Pura’s grandson and Christine’s nephew, who now works as production manager for the company after serving in the Marines, agreed. “The new space is about growing the business and the team,” he said. “To be able to sell more and grow bigger without losing the little details.”
But the family is still committed to the original inspiration of love and care. Each December, Torico’s featured flavor is Pete’s holiday coquito, a nod to the flavor Mr. Berrios made for his wife in 1968. (While the Berrioses prefer to keep the recipe within the family, Krysten Chambrot, an editor for New York Times Cooking, developed a version inspired by the one sold at Torico.) After all these years, the current version still features the same creamy texture, round coconut flavor and warming spices as the original.
This will be the first year the patriarch of Torico and the flavor’s namesake isn’t there to taste it. Mr. Berrios died in June, but the family still hung his stocking behind the counter as they do every year, a testament to his presence which still infuses the business. “We have so many memories,” Mrs. Berrios said as she looked around the shop. “Even though he’s not here, he’s in everything.”
Recipe: Coquito Ice Cream